x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE bride's nightmare: 'I nearly died losing weight for my wedding'

It was a bariatric surgery gone wrong. A Syrian woman describes her harrowing experience with weight-loss surgery.

Complications arose when Sawsan Ibrahim had a gastric band procedure done by a private hospital in Sharjah. It took her five years and multiple surgeries to repair the damage done. Razan Alzayani / The National
Complications arose when Sawsan Ibrahim had a gastric band procedure done by a private hospital in Sharjah. It took her five years and multiple surgeries to repair the damage done. Razan Alzayani / The National

All Sawsan Ibrahim wanted was to lose weight before her wedding. Instead, she nearly died.

After failing to lose weight by dieting, Mrs Ibrahim opted for bariatric surgery to help her lose some of her 120 kilograms.

Problems in her bones and joints limited her ability to exercise.

After the surgery, when the anaesthetic wore off, the Syrian woman was in extreme pain. She spent two nights in the hospital but did not feel ready to be discharged.

"My sister told him I'm still very tired but he wouldn't listen," she said of the western doctor who performed the surgery. "He said, 'Yes, your sister is spoiled, she doesn't really have good pain tolerance', and insisted on sending me home."

Once there, Mrs Ibrahim continued to experience sharp pains in her abdomen and found eating unbearable.

Three days after the operation, she had a fever of 42°C and her stomach was swollen and blue. Her sister took her straight to the hospital.

Tests showed the gastric band had perforated her stomach, causing everything she consumed to leak into her body and on to her organs.

"Finally, the doctor came and sliced my stomach open with a knife," she said. "He started pressing my stomach and all the substances would come out.

"It was a horrifying experience. He had to cut deep because the pus was inside and he couldn't give me an anaesthetic because of possible contraindications with the IV."

The surgeon called another doctor who made another incision, and they continued to try to drain her stomach.

"I was treated like a slab of meat in a butcher shop," she said. "I was screaming but he would shout back at me and say he had to do it, and that I had to be patient."

Mrs Ibrahim's condition deteriorated further. She had blood poisoning, her lungs collapsed, her organs stopped functioning and she was comatose for two days.

"My sister thought I was not going to wake up," she said. "My siblings came from Kuwait to bid me farewell and they were preparing to inform my mum back in Syria, but my sister said to wait."

After spending a month in hospital and three months under close observation at home, she made a slow recovery.

Still the doctor refused to remove the gastric band and none of the private hospitals Mrs Ibrahim approached wanted to get involved.

Finally, doctors at Rashid Hospital agreed to treat her. A scan showed the band was now inside her stomach, instead of around it.

They eventually removed it.

If she had to do it again, Mrs Ibrahim, now in her early 40s, said she would not opt for the surgery. Now weighing 77 kilograms, she said she always diets, which is difficult.

But she added if she could do it now, she could have done it then.

"My stomach looks like a road map," Mrs Ibrahim said. "I can't even change with the lights on in front of my husband, no matter how much he reassures me that he loves me for who I am.

"As a result, I cheated death. As a result, I risk having children now considering my age. I've lost years of my life I can never regain.

"I would advise anyone to think 100 times before going through a procedure like this. And if they do, to really choose the right doctor, because if it goes wrong it can take you to hell and there's no way back."

mismail@thenational.ae